(Above: The mobile wall on display in Portland, Texas, earlier this year. Photo courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.)
A three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial will arrive in McKeesport on Tuesday afternoon, and the community is being encouraged to welcome it to the city.
A procession of more than 200 motorcycles and emergency vehicles will escort the mobile "Wall That Heals" from Olympia Shopping Center on Walnut Street beginning at approximately 4:45 p.m., circling the city and arriving at Renziehausen Park shortly after 5 p.m.
Then, on Wednesday morning, a crew of 20 to 25 volunteers will meet at Renzie's Jimmy Long Field to begin assembling more than 140 panels into the 375-foot-long wall during what Tim Tetz, director of outreach for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund in Arlington, Va., calls "the largest game of 'Tetris' you've ever played."
The wall will open to visitors Wednesday evening, Tetz said, and remain open at Renzie, around the clock, through 11 a.m. Aug. 12. A formal opening, including a special ceremony recognizing 40 local veterans, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, according to a spokesman for state Sen. Jim Brewster.
McKeesport is one of the first cities on the nationwide tour for the new replica, which includes the names of all 58,318 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who are listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
The replica is being brought to the city by a group of volunteers, including Walt Yager of North Huntingdon Twp., under the auspices of a group calling itself "Bring the Wall to the Mon Valley," with assistance from city officials, Vietnam Veterans Inc. of Pittsburgh, the Vietnam Huey Pilots Association and the Veterans Breakfast Club.
"It is really going to give you the experience of visiting the (Washington) wall, right there in McKeesport," Tetz said.
Opened in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the second-most popular attraction on the National Mall, after the Lincoln Memorial. It was designed by artist Maya Lin as an immersive experience. As visitors walk down a gentle slope, the elegant gray and black tablets bearing the names of the dead eventually tower over them.
The replica, when assembled, gives much the same effect, Tetz said. It tapers from just a few inches tall to more than seven feet at its tallest point, he said, and "gives you the same feeling of the enormity, of how many lives were lost" in the conflict, he said.
There have been other traveling replicas of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but none as detailed or as large as this one, Tetz said.
The finished replica weighs 6,700 pounds and is carried on a special 53-foot tractor trailer. Made of a synthetic granite-like material, it was produced earlier this year by a crew of artisans in Massachusetts who worked around the clock for more than three weeks to make sure it was ready for its inaugural 38 city tour, Tetz said.
For Tuesday's procession, the motorcycles and emergency vehicles will assemble at Olympia Shopping Center beginning at 4 p.m.
They will then escort the tractor trailer carrying the tablets along Walnut Street to Downtown, east on Lysle Boulevard and Fifth Avenue to Hartman Street, and then up Eden Park Boulevard to Renzie.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Cherepko said spectators who want to welcome the wall to Renzie should assemble on Eden Park Boulevard near McKeesport Area High School by 5 p.m.
Some roads are expected to be closed and traffic will be restricted during the procession, the mayor's office said.
Accompanying the replica will be a traveling educational center, Tetz said. In addition, a six-foot screen will display the names and faces of the "McKeesport 23" --- young men from McKeesport and the surrounding area who were killed during the war. (A recent count by veterans and volunteers has determined that the "23" were actually 24.)
Seeing the photos of the smiling young men is a sobering reminder of the American lives lost during the conflict, Tetz said. "Sometimes people will say, 'I've already been to the real wall,' but I tell them they're missing out on something special," Tetz said. "This wall will overwhelm you."
Viewing the replica wall at night, under special lights designed for the experience, is especially moving, he said.
McKeesport is the 24th stop on the new replica's maiden tour, Tetz said. Next year, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund hopes to send the replica to at least 40 cities, he said. About 60 cities have already applied.
In addition to supporting the mobile wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund also maintains and supports the memorial on the National Mall, raising money for upkeep, lighting, groundskeeping and annual celebrations of Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
The fund is currently raising money for a new interpretative visitors' center that will help tell the story of the Vietnam War, Tetz said.
From McKeesport, the wall will travel to Warren, Ohio, and then Howell, Mich. Its final stop for 2018 will be Franklinton, La., about an hour north of New Orleans.
McKeesport's volunteers are attempting to raise $1 for each of the more than 58,000 names on the wall. For more information, visit their website at www.bringthewalltothemonvalley.com.
Originally published August 06, 2018.